Social media icons. Flickr, CC, Jason Howie.

#Science: Science Museums on Instagram

By Adrian Lou

With the increasing popularity of social networking platforms, countless science museums around the world have translated their content onto their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. The genre of social media greatly constrains how science museums present information. The hashtagging functionality, for instance, induces these organizations to speak with the vocabulary of colloquial Internet language, which seemingly subverts their scientific and professional goals and objectives. This critical digital exhibit attempts to reproduce the experience of visiting an exhibit on Instagram, which functions not only as a digital extension of the museum’s physical space but also as a separate entity from the museum’s homepage. My digital exhibit analyzes the rhetorical strategies taken up by different Vancouver-based science organizations in order to uncover how internet genres influence the framing and making of scientific knowledge.

Background

With the increasing popularity of social networking platforms, countless science museums around the world have translated their content onto websites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The genre of social media greatly constrains how science museums present information. The hashtagging functionality, for instance, induces these organizations to speak with the vocabulary of colloquial Internet language, which seemingly subverts their scientific and professional goals and objectives.

The Instagram Exhibit

This critical digital exhibit attempts to reproduce the experience of visiting an exhibit on Instagram, which functions not only as a digital extension of the museum’s physical space but also as a separate entity from the museum’s homepage. However, as many of the artifacts show, online tropes and activities are gradually entering into the physical domain of museums. That is, museums have been merging these spaces together by telling online visitors to go to the museum and visitors of the museum to continue their experience online. My digital exhibit analyzes the rhetorical strategies taken up by different Vancouver-based science organizations in order to uncover how internet genres influence the framing and making of scientific knowledge.

Science Museum on Social Media

I have reposted different artifacts from these institutions that I found problematic and complex. Although these posts were likely meant to be harmless, playful and fun, they nevertheless shape viewers and visitors’ perception of what a science museum is and does. For example, how is biodiversity promoted when the Beaty Biodiversity Museum encourages visitors to come and take a whalfie (a selfie with their whale exhibit)? What does the Vancouver Pride Parade have to do with the marine life of the Vancouver Aquarium? Many of these posts spotlight the dominating force the genre of social media has on the way institutions can talk to the public. A rhetorical analysis of these Instagram accounts can thus allow STS scholars to begin investigating how scientific knowledge and facts are shaped by online forms and genres.

Hashtags and Persona

When going through these exhibits, notice the rhetorical and stylistic choices the museums make. Pay close attention to the hashtags and feel free to click on the hashtag to discover more about how it is used by the general Instagram community. One other thing to notice too is the persona that these pages are trying to invoke. Even when the demographic of social media is older than the children they are targeting, why do so many science museums infantilize their audiences? Many more of these questions are posed in the exhibit.